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The Inventors: Your local high school robotics team

High school robotics team prepares for 2019 competition season

CAMAS — The unassuming facade of Liberty Middle School’s northern side hides one of the most advanced and technologically intricate facilities in the region. CNC machines, metal lathes, band saws, and enough computers to be reminiscent of Star Trek, line the walls.   

And it is staffed by high schoolers.

Students work in their machine shop inside Liberty Middle School, as part of the 2018-2019 robotics Team Mean Machine 2471. This year’s robot, Atlas, will have to run through a series of challenges, including moving boxes and color sensing. Photo by Jacob Granneman
Students work in their machine shop inside Liberty Middle School, as part of the 2018-2019 robotics Team Mean Machine 2471. This year’s robot, Atlas, will have to run through a series of challenges, including moving boxes and color sensing. Photo by Jacob Granneman

Team 2471 is a competitive robotics team comprised of students from Camas, Hockinson, Discovery, and Washougal high schools. Together they design, build and compete with original robots every year.

“We are presenting kids with challenges that they don’t think they can achieve, and then showing them how to achieve it,” said Roy Thornley, an adult mentor for Team 2471. “Each time we do that, we give them another one and another one and another one, and they are, in the process of learning how to do that, gaining enormous confidence in themselves.”

Thornley became involved in the early days of the team. After retiring as a mechanical engineer, he was interested in becoming a part of the program, and discovered a team in his own community.

The team, which began in 2007, is connected to the greater world of robotics through a program known as FIRST, or For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. FIRST was founded by the inventor of the Segway and american engineer, Dean Kamen, in 1989.

The team currently has close to 60 members with three upcoming projects to complete, in what is their preseason. The official competition season starts at the beginning of next year. In the meantime, students are collaborating on a T-shirt  cannon and components for their main competition robot.

“A lot about these off-season competitions, is that it’s about getting new people ready,” said Justine Pendergraft, a member of Team 2471 who specializes in programing and electronics. “What my job is, is teaching new students … getting into programing, and delegating tasks, and also taking a lead role at competitions.”

Students from years past, make adjustments to their robot. Team 2471 has been building robots for over 10 years now. Photo courtesy of Bruce Whitefield
Students from years past, make adjustments to their robot. Team 2471 has been building robots for over 10 years now. Photo courtesy of Bruce Whitefield

The multilevel process of preparing for competitions starts with the designing of the robot. This too, is accomplished by students through computer aided-drafting and graphic concepts.

From there, the team members assigned to work in fabrication, begin fashioning the parts needed to construct major components. By way of computer controlled milling, metal lathes, all manner of precise hand tools, and the occasional whack with a hammer, the team produces everything needed to bring their robot to life.

The final step before tuning can begin is the programming. Students trained in software development and implementation, install computer codes that will be the brain operations of the robot.

Together, all the levels of production are designed to model a real-world business, said Sarah Gondek, another team mentor for Team 2471.

“It’s not just shop, there’s a business side as well,” Gondek said. “With all those different facets … they learn how to do each little piece, and everytime they learn how to use a tool or speak up for themselves, they get confident.”

Gondek, who works as an emergency substitute for the Camas School District, became involved when her daughter joined the team. She decided to stay after witnessing the powerful displays of student-driven creativity and accomplishments, she said. Around the shop, she is lovingly referred to as the “team mom.”

In the past, Team 2471’s robot launched balls high into the air. Each year the robot is modified and often redesigned or retooled to meet the current year’s challenges. Photo courtesy of Bruce Whitefield
In the past, Team 2471’s robot launched balls high into the air. Each year the robot is modified and often redesigned or retooled to meet the current year’s challenges. Photo courtesy of Bruce Whitefield

Funding for Team 2471 is almost entirely sourced through donations from corporate and individual sponsors. Everyone from Boeing to Microsoft, Fisher Investments to U.S. Digital, and even HP, are supporters for the team.

The team’s budget ranks in the tens of thousands of dollars, averaging approximately $1,000 per student that participates.

John Lange, is the student team captain for Team 2471, and manages all the business elements of the group, including sponsor relations.

“My favorite part would probably be the amount of different people I get to meet,” Lange said. “People from different countries, different backgrounds.. Some people corporate, some people that don’t even know what the team is, and I just meet them on the street.”

With the competition season only three months away, Team 2471 will gear up in the coming days through a series of practice competitions, trainings and courses to teach students how to operate their new robot.

“There are people that are driven; that want to go far” Gondek said. “To see that sort of thing play out for students in a high school level, it’s pretty amazing because they challenge themselves more than any classroom ever would.”

To find more information on Team 2471 or robotics competitions, visit the team’s website or check out their Facebook page and Youtube Channel.   

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About The Author

Jacob Granneman

Jacob Granneman is a filmmaker and writer from Clark County. He is a recent graduate of Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College, where he studied media production. He has produced documentary stories all over the Pacific Northwest and in Argentina. His passions range from loving people, to cinematography, to going on adventures in the most beautiful place on earth, i.e. his backyard. He lives with his wife in Vancouver, WA.

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